The Tennessee Valley Authority gained court approval last week to begin scoping out the land for a one of its high-voltage power lines to supply its new $300 million power control center planned near Georgetown, but TVA officials said environmental and archeological studies of the area are still needed before any construction begins.
TVA plans to release an environmental assessment of its proposed project in south Meigs County by this spring. But landowners whose property TVA needs to extend one of its 161,000-kilo-volt transmission lines for the project say they don't trust TVA's study and plan to hire their own consultants.
TVA dubbed its plans for the new system operations center near Georgetown "Project Viper," which nearby residents claim suits what they say is TVA's "sneaky and predatory" approach to acquiring property and seeking easement rights across their property for the new facility.
"Residents of Georgetown have concerns about the environment impact of Project Viper on our community," said Greg Vital, one of four property owners who sued TVA to try to block access to their property. "It is also well known that there is reasonable expectation that Cherokee artifacts may exist on the land. We are not going to trust TVA to tell the truth, so we will look to moving forward on our own."
Vital said he plans to hire environmental and archeological consulting firms familiar with the Cherokee heritage of the rural community to see if there are historic artifacts that might thwart some of TVA's plans.
As a federally owned corporation, TVA is subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and must prepare an environmental assessment of its plans to build a new power control center in southern Meigs County. TVA bought 167 acres in Meigs County in 2017 near Gunstocker Creek to built a new power control center to replace the 24-year-old facility located in the basement of the downtown Chattanooga Office Complex. The Chattanooga site is underground and potentially could be flooded and in a downtown area is more susceptible to terrorist threats that might cause problems for TVA's electric grid control.
Emily Willard, a NEPA specialist who is conducting the environmental assessment for the Georgetown project, said TVA has hired outside archeological consulting experts and is consulting with Native American tribes and others about any artifacts or other historically significant material in the area. TVA's initial environmental review of the land it acquired for the power control center did not reveal any potential problems, but TVA is still studying the site and the proposed one-mile transmission line route to assess any environmental impact from the project.
"Our draft environmental assessment should be completed by this spring and will be made public and available for public review and comments," Willard said.
TVA will not initiate any construction for either the 185,000-square-foot systems operations center or the transmission lines to the new power control facility before all environmental issues are addressed, Willard said.
Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Harry "Sandy" Mattice rejected a challenge to TVA's requests to enter the property of four landowners in the route of the proposed transmission line to the new power facility. Mattice conceded that TVA's eminent domain authority is not always popular, but he said the utility under its 1933 charter was granted the legal right for such land easements if they are deemed by the utility to be needed for the overall public good.
"Judge Mattice hits the nail on the head when he says he understands the consternation of the property owners in Georgetown because TVA's behavior is 'very familiar to this court,' " Vital said. "What he is saying is that is that TVA has a long history of running over people to take their land, all backed by federal law.
"That is the behavior we have seen for the past six months," Vital said. "It's David vs. Goliath described as the federal government. Property rights should mean more than that."
Critics of TVA have put up a web site and Facebook page to fight the Georgetown project where residents have objected to what they claim has been a lack of transparency and planning for the new project.
But TVA spokesman Scott Fiedler said TVA has met with property owners, conducted a public hearing in August and is now studying all of the environmental and historic impacts of any building before the project proceeds.
"We have been and will continue to be transparent about our plans and findings," he said.
TVA officials said that locating the power control center in a more remote area will ensure greater security for TVA's power grid, which is being upgraded through a comprehensive "Grid 2023" project that also includes more than $300 million of transmission and internet upgrades across TVA's 7-state power network.
Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 757-6340.